While it is true that 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of Pokemon (see list dedicated to that here), it also marks the 30th anniversary of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series. Perhaps even more so than Nintendo’s famous plumber and his games, The Legend of Zelda have consistently provided high quality titles that have proven to be essential touchstones in not only the gaming industry, but in wider pop culture and the arts in general. One of the greatest joys of The Legend of Zelda is that it provides so many amazing experiences and emotions, whether it the sheer elation of solving a hard puzzle or defeating a hard boss, or absolute frustration that you can’t ever make your way through the Water Temple without getting lost. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have fun, that is the brilliance of The Legend of Zelda. Action/adventure style gameplay may be one thing, but The Legend of Zelda series has always strived to include the finest music it can into its games, with many titles in the series featuring music as an essential component of the main core gameplay and story. So, to commemorate the series’ 30 years of existence and its marvelous treatment of music (not to mention the hopeful 2016 release of the new Zelda game currently in the works), here is The Top 30 Best Legend of Zelda Songs. Enjoy!
30) Romance in the Air – Skyward Sword
In the early parts of Skyward Sword, the scenario is that Link and Zelda have grown up together as childhood friends and are on the verge of being something…a little more romantic. And while this does sound a little like cheesy fanservice, it was still beautiful to watch and a lovely addition to the Legend of Zelda canon. One of the many strengths of Skyward Sword was that it really made you especially determined to save Zelda, as she was presented as being someone you really truly care about. The track Romance in the Air plays as Link and Zelda soar through the skies together on their Loftwings (definitely a date), and with the track’s blooming major key strings and exquisitely perfect progression, you cannot help but smile at this beautiful, budding romance….THEEEEEN that bloody tornado has to come by and ruin everything!!!
29) City in the Sky – Twilight Princess
When it comes to dungeon themes in Twilight Princess, it is a pretty light affair. Nothing really bad, but nothing really sticks out…except for the theme to the City in the Sky. On this list almost for sheer uniqueness and abstractness alone, the City in the Sky theme contains eerie yet mystifying strings, and…sounds that are just truly bizarre. Repetitious digitalised “squawking” sounds and creepy babblings (most likely provided by the freaky as hell Ooccoos) lend the tone of the music a truly trippy experience, and combined with the dungeon it accompanies, you will most likely go insane. Have fun!
28) Hidden Village – Twilight Princess
Hold on! What’s all this Sergio Leone action happening in my Zelda game? Well I’ll tell you what’s up, when you discover the Hidden Village in Twilight Princess, it is practically a portal into a 1960s spaghetti Western, complete with small town shoot outs, dusty winds, uh, cats, and of course, that Ennio Morricone inspired score, with whistling, mouth harp, sharp guitars, and mariachi brass to make you feel like you’re in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Perfection.
27) Ikana Valley – Majora’s Mask
While this song serves as theme music in all four main locations around the central Termina Field, it is given an instrumental and tonal redressing each time to adequately suit the atmosphere. Despite this, the iconic version of the song can only be its Ikana Valley incarnation. Ikana Valley is one creepy place. The ghosts of fallen soldiers and assassins haunt the hills, and people are slowly being turned into Gibdos. The theme to Ikana Valley reflects this tone well, with domineering vocal sounds, deep and clunking piano lines, unnerving flute melodies, and short and sharp string shrieks providing a truly unsettling atmosphere. However, eventually whirring synth strings and a hopeful vocal line fade in, reassuring you to keep on moving, in the face of such grim opposition. Truly moving.
26) Ballad of the Goddess – Skyward Sword
Do you want to know just how insane the genius of the composers for The Legend of Zelda series? The Ballad of the Goddess is Zelda’s Lullaby backwards. Crazy! But asides that, Ballad of the Goddess is the perfect tone-setter to Skyward Sword: grand, epic, soaring with emotion and flavour, and with its stunning live orchestral sound, it threatens to whisk you away up into the clouds and into an amazing adventure (which might not be such a bad thing).
25) Dungeon Theme – The Legend of Zelda
When you FINALLY manage to grind enough and find your way to a dungeon in the original Legend of Zelda, the fun overworld music stops, and you are greeted with this, the Dungeon Theme: cycling over and over, again and again, never threatening to stop its eerie 8 bit awesomeness. NES games had many limitations in the sound department, so it is astonishing to witness the feeling of being lost in a creepy, hidden dungeon be so perfectly conveyed with the original Zelda’s Dungeon Theme.
24) Ballad of the Windfish – Link’s Awakening
Sure, it is a short little song only really played once in the entire game, but it casts a very long and memorable shadow. The main task of Link’s Awakening involves you to collect 8 musical instruments so you can play this specific song, and escape being trapped on a faraway island. Despite being 8 bit, you can easily hear the mournful and bittersweet sadness emanating from every tinkling note. It is a gorgeous melody that deserves all the praise it is given and more. (If you want to see the full extent of its beauty, click here and here for some terrific remixes).
23) Midna’s Theme – Twilight Princess
Midna is one of the best characters in the Zelda franchise. No question about it. Her design was clever and original, she had real emotions and feelings that made you care about her, and her personality was the perfect mix of fiery, sassy, and determined. Unlike other companions Link has had over the course of his adventures, Midna felt the most like a fully fleshed out character that travelled along with you, instead of just a hint guide strapped to your waist (I’m looking at you, Navi and Fi!). Understandably enough, for a great character comes great theme music, and Midna’s is stunning. Gentle yet dark, pretty but with a slight dash of tragedy and forlorn spirit, Midna’s Theme perfectly encapsulates the mysterious nature of Midna, and possibly even, Twilight Princess as a whole.
22) The Sacred Duet – Spirit Tracks
Music is a beautiful and powerful thing (as the rest of this list is also testament to), and in Spirit Tracks, this is especially prevalent. During the final, intense boss fight with Malladus, the only way to weaken the Demon King is to team up with Zelda and perform The Sacred Duet with your trusty Spirit Pipes. The song may be simple, but it is so impeccably majestic, with Zelda’s vocals and Link’s pipes trading bittersweet melodic lines between each other, providing a charming little moment amid utter chaos. In time, the song gains accompaniment from some other friends you have met on your journey, morphing into a gorgeous ensemble that is as proud as it is determined to find victory. The song then seamlessly morphs into the final boss theme, which is one of the most stunning in all the Zelda series. A true melancholy masterpiece.
21) Last Day – Majora’s Mask
If you’ve played it you know. If you’ve read about it you know. If you walked down the street on a sunny day and bought an ice-cream at the local store…you still would know. Majora’s Mask is a dark game. And it is the inclusion of a decent amount of bright and comfortable moments and colours that just serves to accentuate the darkness. Either way, there is no escaping the ever-looming doom of the third and final day of Majora’s Mask‘s three day cycle (unless you count performing the Song of Time, but bare with me). In the final hours of the third day, you are treated to a land in despair: The Moon is going to fall and destroy everything and everyone, the skies grow dark, people are crying, attempting to flee or hide in vain, and all the while, music that so perfectly realises the tone of despair, sadness and hopelessness plays just to hammer the point of suffering home all the more fervently. Plus, the tolling of the Clock Town bells just reaffirms the sinking feeling of depression even more strongly. There is a defeatist tone to this music, and it can be hard to deal with, but that is what makes it one of the most iconic pieces of music in the Zelda series.
20) Tal Tal Heights – Link’s Awakening
Sometimes, you just gotta hear some great music to pump you up for a quest. That is what the theme to Tal Tal Heights is. A slight remix of the main Zelda theme, the 8 bit Tal Tal Heights theme deviates far away enough to carve out its own distinctive identity. A fast tempo beat, a fiery main melody line, an octave change, and the closest thing you will get to an 8 bit “beat drop”, solidifies this theme as one of the most exciting the series has to offer.
19) Hyrule Field – Ocarina of Time
The feeling of walking out of the Kokiri Forest and into the vast expanses of Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, will forever stand as one of the most defining moments in video games. This grand, exciting new world to explore in glorious 3D…astonishing! But, it would only be half as memorable if it wasn’t accompanied by the Hyrule Field theme, easily one of the most exceptionally crafted and orchestrated songs in the Zelda canon. The whole gamut of emotions whirl past as this glorious piece of music triumphantly marches on. There are the jovial moments, the lazy moments, the adventurous moments, and of course, the tense moments when an enemy is sighted (those damn peahats!). The music and the field are inexorably linked, with one informing the other in fine fashion. This music truly heralded, the dawn on a brand new world.
18) File Select/Fairy Fountain Theme – Various
There are certain things a Zelda game needs to have, and as of 1991, they need to contain this beautiful, timeless piece of music. The File Select or Fairy Fountain Theme is short, simple, sweet, and tranquil, and serves as either a soothing and inviting introduction to start your adventure, or a moment of peace when you can heal your spirits with some fairies. Either way, lovely and endlessly memorable.
17) Palace Theme – Zelda II: The Adenture of Link
Most will know this song from the Super Smash Bros series, but it was birthed in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, perhaps the most divisive Zelda game ever made. And while that game does have many flaws and hasn’t aged the finest, no one can deny the excellency of the Palace Theme, the best song in the game. The way it just bobs and chugs along with such intensity is truly amazing, with it always alerting you to the fact that you are in dangerous, mysterious locale that might just crumble all down on top of you. For NES standards, the Palace Theme is a vibrant and impressively dynamic piece of music, and one that continues to resonate to this day.
16) Lorule Castle – A Link Between Worlds
It is well established that the fully orchestral score to Skyward Sword was a major leap forward musically. So many emotions, tones and feelings were expressed throughout the soundtrack in glorious surround sound. Despite this, it seems that with the Lorule Castle Theme from A Link Between Worlds, the Zelda franchise found a way to condense all the brilliance and dynamism of the Skyward Sword score into a single track. Along with being a great dungeon, Lorule Castle provides us with this stunning piece of music, which crams almost every epic musical motif you can think of (except a guitar solo) into a pillar of awesome spectacle. The brass blare, the choirs soar, the violins rush, the flutes toot along, culminating in a tone that goes from adventurous to dangerous to whimsical and back again in a heartbeat. Truly stunning, and proof that the Zelda series still has got the knack for classic music.
15) Dragon Roost Island – The Wind Waker
It is rather difficult to so effortlessly find the midpoint between adventure, whimsy, and reflection in a single song, but the theme to Dragon Roost Island easily manages to achieve this goal. While those nimble acoustic strums awaken you and get you moving, that wistful wind instrument promises a new world to explore, where the possibilities are endless. At times you may think that times are getting a little too hard, but you can always find comfort on Dragon Roost Island (if you are fine with sharing an island with a society of bird people and a giant volcano of course).
14) Lost Woods – Ocarina of Time
It will come to you. Once you have heard it, you will remember the Lost Woods theme for as long as you live. You may be riding on a bus, tying your shoes, driving a car, filling out a tax form, whatever the action, that infuriatingly catchy melody will ooze into your consciousness. It is inevitable. I don’t even need to describe it here. If you have heard it, you know it, and it is in your head right now. Thanks Koji Kondo!
13) The Dark World – A Link to the Past
In many ways, the moment The Dark World came into being in A Link To The Past, the Zelda franchise was never the same again. The mechanic of having a dual world has persisted throughout many Zelda games, whether it be Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, or Skyward Sword, but one thing that is specific to A Link to the Past‘s dual world (well, except maybe for A Link Between Worlds), is its AWESOME theme music. Pounding digitised brass and stirring synth strings do not provide a dark tone for the Dark World, but instead inspire feelings of determination in the face of further conflict. The world has literally got darker and more twisted, Ganon’s grip on the land is tightening, and only you can stop these forces and return the land to the light. Adventure forth!
12) Realm Overworld – Spirit Tracks
Perhaps the strangest of all concepts (Zelda…with trains!!!) turned a couple of people off, but those who stuck around after the elevator pitch did not just got a fatastic portable Zelda game, but also a suprisingly amazing soundtrack. The highlight? The Realm Overworld theme, which plays as you ride around the land on your fancy train, tooting your whistle at pigs and changing gears with glee. And while this experience could easily be slotted into another game as a little mini game or a side quest, it is made all the more epic and thrilling due to the excellent music that accompanies your travels. Listening to this track is like taking a journey to a whole new place, where mystery abounds, promises are made, and where banjos are cool! The track is relentless in its free-spirited exuberance and enthusiasm, and ultimately, it is impossible not to be taken on board for a ride, time and time again.
11) The Sky – Skyward Sword
Easily one of the grandest songs in the Zelda series, The Sky is the music that plays when you…well, fly through the sky. On the back of your trusty Loftwing for that matter. The track’s gorgeous arrangement takes full advantage of its live orchestration, with little effects like harp trills, cymbal crashes, and tinkling chimes adding immeasurable charm and character to a proudly widescreen melody of fine brass and strings. And just when you think the song cannot get more epic, marching percussion gloriously crashes into the song’s second half to prove you wrong. When it comes down to it, The Sky perfectly captures that inconceivable joy of soaring through the sky, on a quest to save the world.
10) Hyrule Field – Twilight Princess
Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule Field is a classic, and its accompanying theme music is rightfully some of the best in the series (see #19). However, Twilight Princess‘ variation of theme trumps the original in many respects and stands on its own, offering thrilling diversity, cinematic action, and a definite sense of maturity. Whatever quest you are embarking on in Twilight Princess, if it involves you traversing through Hyrule Field to do it, it is practically impossible to not do it without feeling a triumphant sense of epicness and urgency. You can thank this excellent score for that.
9) The Great Sea – The Wind Waker
Of all the main area themes and overworld themes in the Legend of Zelda Series, the one that comes closest to representing the pure epitome of adventurousness is most assuredly the theme to The Great Sea in The Wind Waker. There is just something about the way the music progresses, with the brass section triumphantly pointing to the future as the swelling strings dazzle and breathe life and energy into the arrangement, that just inspires feelings of determination, hope, and boundless adventure. Asides from that, even without playing the game, you can just feel the expansive sea around you, alive with secrets and mysteries as you listen to the song, it is that evocative. It may not be a stretch to say that the theme to The Great Sea may just be one of the most inspirational pieces of music you are likely to hear.
8) Hyrule Castle/Farewell Hyrule King – A Link to the Past/The Wind Waker
These songs are two versions of the same song from two separate games, so they don’t really warrant two separate spots on this countdown. But they are so distinctly different in tone and atmosphere, not two mention both being astounding, that I believe they both deserve a place side by side. Originally heard as the theme to Hyrule Castle in A Link to the Past, the song was one of the first heard in the game. You grab your uncle’s sword in the depths of Hyrule Castle and you set off on your quest through its hallowed halls. The music is tense and thrilling, and perfectly accompanies the dangerous trek you are just setting out upon. A bona fide classic and a staple composition in the Zelda series.
In The Wind Waker, the song is renamed Farewell Hyrule King, and plays during one of the most sombre and crushing moments in the Zelda series. The King of Hyrule, who has been guiding you on your arduous quest the entire game decides that he wishes to die within the sunken land of Hyrule so that Link and Princess Zelda can escape. It is an arrestingly dark scene in an all-around positive and whimsical game that never falters its emotional impact. Farewell Hyrule King is a haunting piano dirge that has no trouble in sending shivers up the spine. Every note that is pounded down reinforces the grim hopelessness of the situation at hand. There is no comfort. There is no time for being happy.
7) Forest Temple – Ocarina of Time
For a number of reasons, the Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time will forever stand as one of the most important places in the entire Zelda series. It is the first dungeon you enter as an adult, marking the transition from a simple childhood to a serious adolescence perfectly, it has one of the most unique and important bosses in Zelda history, it has easily one of the best designs of any Zelda dungeon. And of course there is the music. Haunting, creepy, the purest definition of eerie, the Forest Temple theme creates such a uniquely enveloping atmosphere that it is hard not to get swallowed up entirely by all the random sounds and melodic phrases, fading in and out and layering over the top of each other in arresting glory. By far one of the best designed songs the franchise has to offer, the Forest Temple theme deserves praise for both worryingly creepy, yet astonishingly beautiful.
6) Midna’s Desperate Hour – Twilight Princess
It is odd to think, but even to this day, Twilight Princess still divides people. The shifts into more realistic visuals and more cinematic action, mixed with the dependency on the Ocarina of Time-style structure, have both their detractors and their patrons. But the one element of the game that is almost universally beloved is the character of Midna. Good writing made her one of best Zelda characters of all time, and made you actually feel for her. Where this was most realised in game was during the moments following the sequence in which the evil Zant threatens, terrorises, and severely injures Midna. As Midna lies pale and motionless on your wolf-back, you are given the prompt to go to see Princess Zelda to save Midna. And as you run through the rainy night across Hyrule Field and through Castle Town and into Zelda’s keep, perhaps the most sorrowful, harrowing, and heart-achingly evocative piece of music plays. While undeniably beautiful, the tinkling piano melody cannot help but fill you with a mournful sense of dread, while the endless piano arpeggios remind you to just keep on running and save your dear companion and friend. If your heart doesn’t instantly ache as soon as this song begins in game…well, you may not have a heart!
5) Princess Zelda/Zelda’s Lullaby – Ocarina of Time
Originally debuting in A Link to the Past, Princess Zelda’s theme was a charming and pretty little song. Since then, it has endured, featuring in nearly every game since, and has become not only synonymous with Princess Zelda, but with the whole franchise in general. But for all the versions of this song, the champion of the lot has to be the version found in Ocarina of Time; Zelda’s Lullaby. Like a lullaby, it is incredibly simple (Left C, Up C, Right C, Left C, Up C, Right C!), and that is a huge part to the song’s brilliance. As well as this, there is just something so unbelievably tranquil and nostalgic about the sound of the Ocarina of Time version, with the ocarina playing the song’s gorgeous melody, and the ever-so delicate string arrangement. The definitive version of Princess Zelda’s Theme, and easily one of Koji Kondo’s greatest compositions.
4) Kakariko Village – Ocarina of Time
Kakariko Village is a very important place in any Zelda game it is featured in. One of the main reasons for this is that it is usually the central nucleus of peace and calm in your adventure. Kakariko is a quiet, sleepy little place, that would never do anything to hurt anyone, and is just generally concerned with being a place of relaxation. The theme to Kakariko Village more than perfectly realises this tonal atmosphere. While introduced in A Link to the Past and being one of that game’s stand-out songs, it is the Ocarina of Time version that stands tall as the definitive version of the song. Languorous and lazy with its ‘laying back on the porch’ guitar riff, and heartfelt melody. This is the kind of song is one that can only become stronger with the passing of time. Everything will change, both good and bad times will pass, but this melody promises that a homely and comforting existence will endure at least somewhere. Truly, one of the most evocative and affecting songs in gaming.
3) Gerudo Valley – Ocarina of Time
Not only one of the catchiest, but hands down one of the coolest songs in any Zelda game, the theme to Gerudo Valley might as well be the unofficial theme song of the Zelda series. With the song’s nimble acoustic riffs and solos and faux-mariachi horns, the music is a perfect fit for the desert tones and Western-inspired imagery of the Gerudo Valley of merciless thieves. It is actually quite hard to explain why the song is so brilliant, but just hearing that exquisite chord progression and exciting instrumentation is all the proof you will need of this song’s supremacy. There IS a reason why this song has over a bajillion fan remixes and cover versions. It’s cool, it’s modern, it’s classic, it’s fresh. It’s perfect.
2) Song of Healing – Majora’s Mask
No other song more accurately sums up the tone and spirit of a Zelda game like Song of Healing does with Majora’s Mask. It is definitely moody and sorrowful, and a sad experience, but within there is just the faintest glimmer of hope to be found that reassures and promises to make it all better and worthwhile. Yes it is simple (the three main notes are the first three notes of the Lost Woods theme but played backwards), but the song succeeds in spite of that. Much of the core story of Majora’s Mask revolves around Song of Healing in some way or another, with it being essential to gain the mask power-ups of the Deku, Goron, and Zora races. Whenever this song is required, usually death is not too far behind, as the souls that you must comfort with this melody are either dead or on the edge of departing. A grim association for this song to bear, but an undoubtedly moving and mature one that reinforces the potency of the song, Majora’s Mask, and possibly the melancholy tragedy of life in general.
1) Main Theme/Overworld – The Legend of Zelda
I tried to rationalise not having this at number 1, but it just didn’t seem right. At all. Sure, it’s cliché, but objectively, the best song in the Legend of Zelda series is without question, the main theme. Written by Koji Kondo in a day, everything about the song is iconic. With its upbeat, medieval inspired melody, it is emblematic of the pure and unbridled spirit of adventure, and impossible to not hum and/or sing along to. Whether in 8-bit form or in spectacular orchestral form, the theme is incorruptibly triumphant, and has suitably appeared in practically every main series Legend of Zelda game. Without question the most iconic song in the Zelda universe, it is also easily one of the most recognisable and beloved songs in gaming, and as soon as you hear those opening notes, you know instantly that your life is going to get a lot more exciting and adventurous.
Mario may be the main cash cow for modern Nintendo and is the company’s undeniable face, but Link and The Legend of Zelda series are where the true intelligence and soul of the company can be found. For 30 years, The Legend of Zelda has taken us far and wide, and has shown us so much that it is truly staggering. And as the series ploughs ahead into the future, all that can be said is that we will be there to pick up sword and shield (and a whole bunch of other items) and journey into a brand new world of excitement and adventure.
Thank you to all the composers of the Legend of Zelda series: Akito Nakatsuka, Asuka Ohta, Hajime Wakai, Kenta Nagata, Kōji Kondō, Mahito Yokota, Michiru Oshima, Toru Minegishi, and Yuko Takehara.